Does spellcheck cast a spell?

Several months ago I heard a documentary on NPR that featured Paul Schweitzer, a gentleman in Manhattan that still runs a typewriter repair business. The lingering insight from that segment was a comment Paul made. He pointed out that the act of actually typing on a typewriter requires you to be more deliberate. Corrections are not easy, so you are forced to be more thoughtful about the structure of the words, the sentences, and the paragraphs.

As is the case in every place of business in any town, anywhere, this Monday morning people were sharing their weekend events in the hallways of our office as they made the pilgrimage from their desk to the bean juicer. One of the chats I overheard was taking place between the only two guys in the office that own iPhones. One was talking about how he attended a wedding in a town he had never been to before. As the story unfolds, his iPhone proved to be a powerful tool for way-finding and helping him locate restaurants in real time.

I am enamored as much as the next guy with the new Apple “brain in hand”, but something about the discussion saddened me. It reminded me of the “typewriter” piece I had heard. Somewhere, tucked in the mortar of the scenario, was a lost opportunity. I am intrigued by the convenience that having access to the web anywhere would provide, but knowing it’s always there potentially prevents one from doing just a little research, and therefore a little discovery. I’m am concerned that having a web browser on tap perpetuates our societies quest for speed, quest for more, and quest for “now”.

Chances are I will snag an iPhone soon, but what I am highlighting for discussion is this unseen cost of convenience. Having the ability to surf while walking down Main Street probably saves us millions over just driving around aimlessly. But, as an example, knowing I have spell-check enables me to forgo ever really trying to correct the fact that I cannot spell worth a box of rocks. That, and perhaps I rely too much on my ever accommodating wife to bail me out on all things written.

I have friends who claim the only tool in their tool box is a checkbook. Then they complain about not knowing how to take a “J” trap off a bathroom sink to retrieve a dropped earring. Many seasoned family travelers claim that planning a trip is half the fun. In fact, without having to plan an itinerary, you could potentially drive to Yellowstone without any awareness for the history of Cody Wyoming and cruise right through it.

Understanding this will help those of us involved in design create experiences which insure the journey is part of the reward. Ultimately the challenge is to learn when, where and how convenience supplements our lives. Maybe a palm top can also be used to check the hours of a museum while we are seeking clarity on directions. Maybe as designers, architects or professional organizers, we should encourage our clients to probe deeper into our recommendations rather than just simply accepting their “OK… sounds good”. Perhaps children would find more value in a sculpture of say a giant horse if they knew the whole story behind it. And who knows what type of literary wizardry I could come up with if I really understood proper grammar !


2 thoughts on “Does spellcheck cast a spell?

  1. Jon, Spellcheck doesn’t even work all the time. Connivence is not convenience, new is not knew. Our tolerance for misspelling even in some printed books and government documents, as well as advertising and brochures, has been growing for years. Meaning is obscured or even reversed.

    Re your other remarks, often the journey is more important than the destination. Learning how things work, and knowing how to figure things out, are vital to intelligence, competence, and a sense of relationship in the world.

    You bring up subjects that matter.


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